As most of the United States feasts on holiday home cooking, the NBA serves up some attractive match-ups to close out 2000. Of the four Divisional races, only Philadelphia, in the Atlantic, has opened up anything of a lead, with the 76ers 4 games ahead of the New York Knicks prior to last weekend. But right after Christmas the 76ers head west for the week. The other three races are all tightly bunched. Heading into the Christmas weekend no team is playing outstanding basketball although Charlotte, Dallas, Milwaukee and Sacramento have been playing the best. In fact, Sacramento and the Lakers are in a virtual tie for the Pacific Division lead. A pair of teams, Chicago and Washington, were winners of just one of their last ten games heading into the holiday weekend.
Because of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the NBA schedule is not as packed this weekend as it usually is but some of the match-ups, especially on Saturday, are extremely attractive, featuring teams likely to make the Playoffs from the east playing teams likely to make the Playoffs from the West. Let’s take a look at two of those games plus a look at a battle in the great Northwest.
Vancouver at Portland (Friday) ”” This neighborhood rivalry is becoming more competitive as Vancouver is showing improvement over their first several seasons in the league and should post their best-ever record this season. Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Michael Dickerson are big time players continuing to get better while Mike Bibby should soon get over his surprisingly early season struggles. The Grizzlies are a young team with much upside potential. Portland is very much a veteran-laden team but leadership remains questionable. Despite all their talent the Trailblazers still are inconsistent at times and frequently play below their potential. Vancouver has a couple of extra days’ rest, which should be a benefit during the holidays (they did play on Tuesday). Portland just played last night in Utah. Vancouver should be getting generous points in this contest and look for them to battle the Blazers down to the wire. The play is on Vancouver plus the points with an outright upset not being a shock.
Philadelphia at Sacramento (Saturday) ”” A pair of up and coming teams square off with both figuring to be forces come Playoff time. They split their pair of games last year with each winning at home. Philly has one of the league’s top players in Allen Iverson but Sacramento may have the more talented roster overall. This game ends a short three game west coast trip for the 76ers. But they have not played since Wednesday, so they should be relatively fresh and able to run the court with the Kings. This handicaps as an entertaining fast-paced game with Sacramento forcing the pace and both teams likely to approach 100 points. The Kings are likely to be favored by from 4 to 6 points and the preference is to back the home team and the OVER as Sacramento continues the superiority of Western conference teams over their brethren from the east. The forecast is for Sacramento to win 104-93.
Toronto at Phoenix (Saturday) ”” Toronto has started to play more consistently of late as they’ve adjusted to their new personnel. Phoenix has cooled down somewhat after their torrid start but are still playing better than .600 ball. Toronto has the edge in the front court while Phoenix’ edge comes from overall depth and experience. Toronto’s Vince Carter and Phoenix’ Jason Kidd are the marquee players on the court and whereas Carter is Toronto’s primary scoring threat, Kidd is most comfortable getting his teammates involved, dishing the ball to Cliff Robinson, Shawn Marion and others. This shapes up as a high scoring contest with both teams capable of running the court and hitting their shots. In another West vs. East match-up, the preference is for Phoenix, projected to win 99-89.